Game Five appeared to be all systems go for the San Jose Sharks. Not only were they back on home ice, but the Sharks were coming off back-to-back wins on the road and held a 3-1 series lead.
In those two games, the Sharks beat Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick six times each and looked to have their scoring depth—which made them a second seed—back on track.
But on Saturday night in San Jose, Quick bounced back with the finest playoff performance of his career. While he didn’t come away with the shutout as he did in Game Two, Quick turned away 51 of 52 shots as the Kings staved off elimination with a 3-1 victory.
During the shutout performance Quick stopped all 34 shots but not only was his defense better in front of him that game but the Sharks weren’t nearly as potent with the high quality chances.
Make no mistake about it, the 51 save performance on Saturday night was by far Quick’s best of the series and it has given the Kings a glimmer of hope as the series shifts back down to L.A. for game six.
“He was spectacular, you make 51 saves in a playoff game, not too many goalies can do that” commented Sharks center Logan Couture who was denied all alone point blank int he third.
Patrick Marleau concurred saying Quick “made tons of great saves” but also added “maybe [we needed] a little more traffic in front.”
Granted there were numerous chances for the Sharks that went sans traffic in front of the L.A. netminder but in reality almost every team will say they could do a better job screening.
That said, the Sharks got more than their fair share of quality chances throughout the contest and just couldn’t find a way to get enough goals to overcome what was an early 3-0 deficit.
Tallies by Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Clifford and Dustin Penner in the span of 5:06 had given the Kings a 3-0 lead just 8:42 into the first period.
“We were going, we had our legs,” said San Jose’s Ryane Clowe. “Then bang-bang a couple of turnovers and you have to score four, five goals to win a game.”
Unfortunately for Clowe and the Sharks, there wouldn’t be another miracle comeback in the cards this time around. While San Jose came back from down 4-0 to win 6-5 in Game Three, Quick simply would not let it happen with his team on the brink of elimination.
“At the end of the day, he’s the difference,” chimed Kings Head Coach Terry Murray. “He’s the reason we’re still alive in this series.”
As this series does move forward, there are two very different ways at looking at how the series has unfolded and how it might end up.
Over the last three games one could argue the Sharks have clearly been the more dominant team and despite failing to win Saturday are going back to a building where they just won twice.
On the flip-side, one has to wonder about the Sharks’ goaltending situation. Now neither of the first two goals allowed by Antti Niemi in Game Five were clearly his fault. However, Penner’s goal on the wrister from between the circles is definitely one the Shark netminder would like to have back.
And it has now twice in the series that Niemi has been pulled from the game only to see backup Antero Niittymaki play well in relief.
Niittymaki turned away all 18 shots he faced on Saturday and has allowed just one goal on 30 shots faced thus far in the series.
Furthermore, the Sharks have been out-scored 8-1 in the first period thus far in the five games and getting off to a good start has proven beneficial in the series. In four of the five games, the team who has scored first has come away with the victory.
Niemi has appeared to be a bit rattled when goals have gotten by him early in games and while Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan went back to him for Game Four after pulling him in Game Three, the decision of who to start in Game Six is undoubtedly a tougher one.
The Sharks have proven they have the deeper team in the series but costly individual mistakes have come back to bit them in their two losses.
Combine that with a second ranked regular season power-play converting just twice in 19 chances in the playoffs and the door is open for the Kings to take advantage.
Not only has the team whose scored first won four of five, but the team with the better special teams performance has also won four out of five.
What about the team who does both? Three wins to zero losses.
Los Angeles has scored first in three of five games and had the better special teams play in three of five games.
So while the Sharks appear to be the more dominant team, that doesn’t mean the Kings are incapable of pulling the upset if the Sharks don’t improve in these areas.
Thanks to Jonathan Quick, there is now even less room for error as series returns to L.A.
Game Five Notes
Patrick Marleau scored the lone goal for San Jose.
Scott Parse played for the Kings for the first time since November 15.
Jamie McGinn suited up for San Jose for the first time since January 26.